The Western Force kept alive their Super 14 play-off hopes when they smashed a sorry-looking Reds team 39-7 in their Week Eight encounter at the Subiaco Oval, Perth, on Friday.
In a game that seldom reached any great heights, despite the Force scoring five tries and the Reds one, saw the Force move up to ninth place in the standings.
As Reds captain James Horwill admitted after the game that his team “failed to turn up” and paid the price – leaving them well outsider the top 10 in 12th place.
It also means the Reds continued with the unwanted record of not having won on the road since 2006.
The one Reds player that tried to make inroads was centre Digby Ioane, and at times he found spaces in the Force defence, but he never had sufficient support to finish off those opportunities.
The Force won the game based on their rock solid defence, which constantly had the visitors under pressure and helped them secure several turnovers at the breakdown.
The set pieces were a mess and both teams’ line-outs were very ordinary.
The first scoring opportunity, or anything that remotely resembled a scoring opportunity, came in the 10th minute – when Berrick Barnes hooked a drop-goal attempt well wide of the uprights.
It was another eight minutes before the next chance, this time a penalty to the Force as Van Humphries was penalised at an odd-looking heap of bodies on the floor, and Matt Giteau made no mistake with the shot at goal – 3-0 to the home team.
This sparked the Force into action and soon Giteau had put Ryan Cross into space and he in turn handed off to James O’Connor, who brushed aside Mark McLinded to score the first try. Giteau’s conversion made it 10-0 to the home team.
The Force now seemed to have a clear edge, as the Reds defenders became more lethargic as the half progressed.
And in the 32nd minute fullback Drew Mitchell exploited some very lazy tackling to go over for the second try. Giteau added the conversion for a 17-0 lead.
They took that lead into the break after a first half in which the Reds dominated possession and territory, but had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.
The Force continued to stretch the lead when Giteau landed his second penalty four minutes after the break and at 20-0 the Reds were left with a mountain to climb.
It went from bad to worse for the Reds in the 53rd minute, when replacement Scott Higginbotham was yellow carded for punching, although it is debatable that he actually landed the shot on Ben Lucas. However, the theatrics of Lucas, along with his teammates vehement protestations, were enough to attract the attention of the touch judge and Higginbotham had to spend 20 minutes in the sin bin.
Replacement Tamaiti Horua was next to score, after a strong bust by David Pocock and with Giteau’s conversion the game was long gone as a contest at 27-0.
All that was left now was for the Force to chase a four-try bonus point and they had 20 minutes to do so.
And it came in the 72nd minute, with Ryan Cross the man to get the score. Giteau couldn’t add the conversion, but that mattered little.
The Reds finally got a consolation try, with Blair Connor breaking his team’s duck in the 74th minute. Brendan McKibbin added the conversion.
However, the Force had the final say with a Haig Sare try after the full-time hooter had sounded. O’Connor, who took the last shot at goal, added the conversion for a 39-7 win.
Man of the match: Digby Ioane tried hard to spark the Reds into action and the Force’s inside centre James O’Connor showed some really neat touches. However, our award goes to the game’s undoubted star, Western Force flyhalf Matt Giteau – who showed that the Perth-based franchise may well be in a heap of trouble without him next year.
For the Western Force:
Tries: O’Connor, Mitchell, Horua, Cross, Sare
Cons: Giteau 3, O’Connor
Pens: Giteau 2
For the Reds:
Yellow card: Scott Higginbotham (Reds, 53 – foul play, punching)
Western Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 James O’Connor, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 AJ Whalley, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Tamaiti Horua, 20 Chris O’Young, 21 Junior Pelesasa, 22 Haig Sare.
Reds: 15 Mark McLinden, 14 Blair Connor, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Rod Davies, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Van Humphries, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Jack Kennedy, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Ezra Taylor, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Anthony Faingaa, 22 Charlie Fetoai.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Aus)
Touch judges: James Leckie (Aus) Julian Pritchard (Aus)
TMO: Geoff Acton (Aus)